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Congresswoman Waters Urges the African Union to Denounce the Failed Government of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe

July 30, 2009
Press Release

Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-35) sent a letter to His Excellency Jakaya Kikwete, the Chairperson of the African Union and President of Tanzania, urging the African Union to denounce the failed government of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and encourage him to step down.  Copies were sent to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State-nominee Hillary Clinton, and USAID Administrator Henrietta Fore.  The text of the letter follows:

I appreciate the important role the African Union plays in the political, economic and social development of the African continent, and I write to you today to express my grave concerns about the situation in Zimbabwe and the countries surrounding it.

Throughout my career, I have been a friend of Africa, beginning with my time in the California State Assembly when I led California's divestment from corporations doing business with South Africa's apartheid regime.  In 1990, I chaired the welcoming committee that greeted Nelson Mandela for his first visit to the United States.  For the past ten years, I have led efforts in the United States Congress to cancel the debts of heavily indebted poor countries.  In 1999, I worked with the Clinton Administration to develop the Enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative.  Since then, I have worked tirelessly to expand the initiative to provide complete debt cancellation to participating countries and allow additional African countries to participate.  I have also sponsored initiatives in Congress to provide humanitarian assistance to African countries affected by natural disasters, support newly-elected governments with development assistance, and address the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.

I have great respect for the sovereignty of all nations.  However, there comes a time when a nation presents such a great risk to other nations that it becomes necessary for the international community to respond.  Zimbabwe presents such a risk to its neighbors.  The cholera epidemic, which is now raging in Zimbabwe, has begun to spread to Zimbabwe's neighbors.  Meanwhile, the collapse of Zimbabwe's infrastructure, hyperinflation, hunger, disease and violations of human rights are creating a flood of refugees into neighboring countries that is too large for these countries to absorb.  Therefore, I urge the African Union to denounce the failed government of President Robert Mugabe and encourage President Mugabe to step down.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the cholera epidemic already has infected 16,141 people and caused 775 deaths since August.  Last week, the WHO requested $6 million in donor support for its cholera response plan, and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) appealed for $17.5 million for its cholera treatment efforts.  Meanwhile, the epidemic has spread into South Africa, where refugees from Zimbabwe are seeking food and medical treatment, which they cannot find at home.

The cholera epidemic is a direct result of the disintegration of basic public services in Zimbabwe.  Water cutoffs are frequent and prolonged in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, while raw sewage and uncollected garbage accumulate in the city's streets.  The city's two largest hospitals have been virtually shut down for weeks because the doctors and nurses stopped coming to work after the country's hyperinflation rendered their salaries worthless.  Likewise, most of the nation's schools have shut down because teachers' salaries do not even cover the cost of bus fare to work.

Starvation has also become common in Zimbabwe.  Many villages are entirely without food as a result of crop failure and economic collapse.  Millions of people are reportedly surviving on nothing but wild fruit, and many have died.  Last summer, President Mugabe suspended humanitarian aid in rural areas from June through August while accusing aid agencies of supporting his political opposition.  Human rights organizations have reported that the government's Grain Marketing Board has routinely denied food to opposition supporters.

Human rights violations in Zimbabwe have escalated.  Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Open Society Institute are demanding an end to abductions of human rights activists after several people were abducted within one week.  On December 3rd, Jestina Mukoko, the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, a national human rights organization, was abducted from her home by a group of armed men who identified themselves as police.  Two employees of the Zimbabwe Peace Project were abducted the following week.  On December 8th, Gandhi Mudzingwa, a former personal assistant to Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, was abducted by a group of unidentified men.

This unconscionable tragedy should not be allowed to continue.  I urge the African Union to call on President Robert Mugabe to resign immediately.  Moreover, I urge the African Union to take all necessary and appropriate action to ensure that humanitarian aid agencies are able to operate freely in Zimbabwe and reach all who are in need. 

Once democracy has been restored, I look forward to working with the African Union, my colleagues in Congress, and the international community to provide economic assistance to restore Zimbabwe's infrastructure and meet the needs of the impoverished people of Zimbabwe.